All posts by Noel Swanson

S/T-5 Trimaran, Newick Derivative


Trimaran, Newick Derivative

30' x 25' x 2 Tons

5-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 9 Conditions


File S/T-5, obtained from the owner of the boat, residing in Falmouth, MA. - Vessel name withheld by request, hailing port Falmouth, design derived from the Newick Val 31 concept (lightweight, open wing ocean racing trimaran), LOA 30' x Beam 25' x Draft 8' x 6" (2' 3" board up) x 2 Tons - Sea anchor: 5-ft. Diameter Shewmon on 200' x 5/8" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 50' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in a gale in deep water within the Gulf Stream with winds of 45-50 knots and seas of 12 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - True drift was undetermined due to the Gulf Stream.


This lightweight Val-class racing trimaran was sailing back from Bermuda to her home port of Falmouth when she ran into a gale within the Gulf Stream. The skipper deployed a 5-ft. diameter Shewmon sea anchor, which pulled the three knife-like bows into 12-ft. confused seas, and kept them safely there for a period of 18 hours. Several snatch blocks were used to bring the bridle ends to cockpit winches. This enabled the skipper to work the bridle from the safety of the cockpit. He found it necessary to freshen the nip once every hour or so - two turns on the winches to shift the wear points and reduce localized chafe. The large daggerboard - drawing 8' 6" when fully lowered - was raised about two thirds of the way up, leaving about three feet of board sticking out of the bottom to keep the hull's center of lateral resistance sufficiently forward. The tiller was lashed amidships.

The bridle was led off the main hull and the tip of the port float only. The beam of the yacht being 25 ft., this "half-bridle," extending from a 12½ ft. base, was evidently enough to provide the leverage needed to keep the trimaran facing into the seas. In general your author is opposed to "half-bridles," however. Along with other safety experts, your author feels that the multihull bridle should make full use of the leverage afforded by the maximum beam of the yacht. The wider the base of the bridle, the greater the leverage - and the more positive its influence in terms of vessel alignment.

S/T-4 Trimaran, Condor


Trimaran, Condor

40' x 28' x 3 Tons

18-Ft. Dia. Sea Anchor

Force 7-8 Conditions

File S/T-4, obtained from Jack Hunt, Apollo Beach, FL. - Vessel name Crystal Catfish IV, hailing port Apollo Beach - Trimaran, designed by Condor Ltd., LOA 40' x Beam 28' x Draft 8' (20" board up) x 3 Tons - Sea anchor: 18-ft. Diameter Para-Tech on 400' x 1/2" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 80' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed during passage of low system in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico about 125 miles WNW of Tampa with winds of 30-40 knots and seas of 15 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 10° - Drift was estimated to be about 2 n.m. during 12 hours at sea anchor.


Jack Hunt is a veteran of the 1980 and 1984 OSTARs (Observer Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race) in which he sailed a 31-ft. monohull named Crystal Catfish III. After making the switch to a lightweight, fast multihull, Jack ended up using a Para-Tech sea anchor during the 500-mile single-handed qualifying run, in preparation for the 1988 OSTAR. In a related article which appeared in the January/February issue of Multihulls, Jack describes conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in the winter as "a battleground of warm and cold fronts, locked in fifteen-round bare-knuckled battles for supremacy, much like the English Channel in June, except the waves in the Channel have the decency to come from the same direction as the wind." Here is a transcript of the DDDB feedback your author obtained from Jack:


Two things caught me by surprise in the twelve hour winter ride [at sea anchor] in the Gulf. First, how much stretch there is in nylon rode. Chafe protection is a must. Second, the "G-forces" which result from the boat being lifted up on a wave top (increased G-force) and then let down into a trough (reduced G-force), much as one would feel on a roller coaster. These forces are a characteristic, I suspect, of the lightweight multihull configuration, having nothing to do with the para-anchor and not at all a problem, just surprise. Because I am alone I do not use a trip line; not enough hands. Instead, I winch the rode in until the para-anchor is within reach with a boat hook and then pick up a shroud line. All of which nets me quite a mess hurriedly stuffed into a bag on a trampoline, so I can get back to tending the suddenly underway boat. Re-folding the chute for its next use presents me with the "one-legged sailor at an ass-kicking contest" scenario. Consequently I have acquired a parachute for use in between the time I haul out the para-anchor and can get it re-folded, if something should develop. The [aerial] parachute is not nearly as rugged as the para-anchor, however, so I remain motivated to work out a more reliable re-folding routine.

The only question remaining for me is, "why didn't I use a para-anchor all those years I had a monohull?" Probably had to do with the false heroism of getting the hell kicked out of me and my boat while hove-to. I should have had this para-anchor years ago.

S/T-3 Trimaran, Cross


Trimaran, Cross

50' x 27' x 16 Tons

28-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 10 Conditions


File S/T-3, obtained from the owner of the boat, residing in Durban, South Africa - Vessel name withheld by request, hailing port Yarmouth, England, trimaran ketch, designed by Norman Cross, LOA 50' x Beam 27' x Draft 6' x 16 Tons - Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter C-9 military class parachute on 500' x 3/4" nylon braid tether and bridle arms of 80' each, with 5/8" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in an Atlantic storm in deep water south of Tristan Da Cunha with sustained winds of 50 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20° - Drift was estimated to be 12 n.m. during 36 hours at sea anchor.


South African safety expert, yachtmaster, instructor and Intec Maritime Academy principal Henton Jaaback had heard about the Casanovas' pioneering work. He acquired a military parachute, which he ended up loaning to the owner of this passage-bound trimaran. On her way to Rio from Cape Town the trimaran ran into a horrendous storm south of the island of Tristan da Cunha. Exhausted, the owner and his wife deployed the parachute according to the Casanovas' guidelines. It pulled the three bows into the huge seas and kept them there for 36 hours - through the worst part of the storm. After the 36 hours there was a jerk, the bows fell off the wind, and the big multihull lay beam to the seas, drifting downwind. It is the owner's opinion that the galvanized swivel in the system seized - failed to rotate, though the 3-strand rope used for the bridle arms is suspect as well (3-strand will torque under load). At any rate when he pulled the lines back on board, all that remained were the two bridle arms of about 60 ft. each, twisted around each other and their ends unraveled. The full trip line had snapped at the same time, so they lost everything, hardware, swivel, tether, parachute and all.

Galvanized swivels have always been a source of concern to your author, though one looks at the Casanovas' file and sees that they never had a problem with theirs in eighteen years of cruising and storm use. The problem with these swivels lies in the galvanic process, which results in an acid-etched coarse surface, liable to stick or "gall" under load. Even so, the swivel - if of good American or Japanese make - usually gets a chance to rotate during slack cycles, as born out by many other files in this database. Moreover there are excellent stainless steel swivels on the market today.

Why do parachutes rotate under load? They may do so because of inconsistencies in fabrication, or shroud lines that are not precisely equal in length. But mostly they rotate because of the ratchet effect produced by the overlapping of the panels. These panels, shaped like pie wedges, have to be sewn together to form the circular shape of the canopy. The edge of the first panel is laid over the edge of the second and sewn, the edge of the second panel is laid over the edge of the third, etc., the radial seams being over, over, over, and this is where the ratchet effect crops up. To do away with this built-in cause of rotation one has to stagger the fit of the seams. The edge of the first panel is laid over the second and sewn, but the edge of the second panel is laid under the third, etc. Over, under, over, under. The parachutes that are used to slow down supersonic aircraft on the runway are of staggered fabrication. You won't see them spin.

Canopy panels

The panels on Para-Tech sea anchors are now sewn in such a way as to be spin-neutral, although swivels are still a good idea. Here is a transcript of the DDDB feedback provided by the owner and his wife:


Swivel on bridle galvanized iron 16 mm - swivel on parachute 16 mm also. The bridle was attached to the swivel of the main line with two shackles. Main line 20 mm "multiplait." Bridle was 25 mm nylon 3-strand rope. After recovering the remains of the bridle we saw we had lost the two shackles and the swivel. The remains of the arms of the bridle were unraveled & twisted around each other - everything else was lost. We have been informed that galvanized swivels apparently lock under strain....

The trip line also snapped when we lost the para-anchor. This was at about 3 pm (we felt a jerk). We rushed into foul weather gear and on deck.... When we started up the engine and tried to find the "rig," the wind was so strong the boat could make no headway - also the seas were white, so the [white] buoy was impossible to see! A red buoy would perhaps show up better, even though we could not have motored to get it....

Some hours after we lost the para-anchor, after broaching dangerously south of Tristan da Cunha, we decided to use a drogue to slow the boat and eliminate broaching. We were bare-pole doing 5-6 knots and descending the slope of waves at 12-13 knots. The drogue consisted of 150 ft. of "multiplat" 20 mm. rope plus 33 ft. of 1/2" chain with 4 knots to make more vortex [turbulence]. All the above was attached to a bridle of 30 ft. [each arm].... We used the engine [in conjunction with the drogue] at the minimum, about 1000 revs, that gave us a speed of approx 4-5 knots and maximum speed in descending wave slope of 7-8 knots and no more broaching.

We needed the engine to keep enough steering power. We had a 3-blade fixed prop that spoiled the efficiency of the rudder; I think we lost about 50% efficiency! But we used the autopilot without any problem and we really appreciated the work of the drogue in straightening the boat each time at the beginning of a broach. The bridle was fixed to two sampson posts of 4" square oak, fixed to the keel of each float. The wind was then about 40 knots, with big breaking seas for about 24 hours.

We were very surprised by the efforts [loads] imposed by the drogue and also by the parachute anchor and we don't think that normal cleat-type fitting would have lasted under the strain....

We now have two para-anchors.... We honestly feel we would not sail without one now. Our experience around Tristan, and the knowledge that we were safe and could ride out a storm, has made this indispensable.

S/T-2 Trimaran, Kismet


Trimaran, Kismet

31' x 18' x 2.5 Tons

20-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 10+ Conditions


File S/T-2, condensed from the writings of Randy Thomas - Vessel name Celerity II, hailing port Victoria BC, "Kismet" trimaran designed by Bill Kristofferson, LOA 31' x LWL 29' x Beam 18' 6" x Draft 30" x 2.5 Tons - Sea anchor: 20-ft. Diameter cargo parachute on 300' x 7/16" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 100' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - No trip line - Deployed in hurricane Freida in deep water in the South Pacific, with winds of 50-60 knots and seas of 30 ft. - Vessel's bow yawed 20°.


This file was condensed from articles by Randy Thomas and additional information provided by others, among them Bob Wilson of the British Columbia Multihull Association, to whom the author is indebted.

Celerity II, a Kristofferson-designed, light displacement Kismet 31 was en route to Kosrae from Rabaul (Solomon Islands) when she had an encounter with hurricane Freida in February 1982. As the wind and seas continued to build, Randy Thomas found options narrowing. Running off was out of the question. It would take Celerity II into a screen of low-lying atolls, and toward the eye of the storm. And Randy had once tried lying a-hull in a blow off Point Conception, California. It had been a bad experience.

With her reefed main set as a riding sail and the tiller lashed amidships, Celerity II lay quietly hove-to for a while. But the wind was building in 5-knot increments and soon it became clear to Randy that the mains'l would have to come off altogether - taken off the boom. It was time to set the parachute sea anchor. Randy had never set the chute before. With safety harnesses snapped on, he and his companion Thea carried the 20-ft. diameter parachute on deck. Crests broke over the boat as Randy crawled onto the narrow floats to shackle each end of the bridle to the heavy duty U-bolts which he had installed three feet inboard. "`Next time rig the bow bridle before you leave port,' ran my mental memo." (Writing in the article that appeared in SAIL Magazine). They dunked the chute and watched, as the boat's drift payed out the 400' of tether and bridle. But Celerity II continued to lie-ahull!

Bridle should be attached to the extreme outboard ends of the floats to obtain maximum leverage possible.

Overcome with dismay, Randy wanted to get the knife and cut the whole rig away, but Thea shouted above the noise of the wind that he should try leading the bridles off the extreme outboard tips of the floats before doing so. Randy was skeptical at first, but then decided to give it a try. He would have to unclip the two snatchblocks from the U-bolts (three feet inboard), wriggle out to the ends of the narrow floats and re-attach them to pad-eyes forward. It was a formidable struggle, but it did the trick. Celerity II immediately rounded up and began facing the seas. In his article appearing in the June 1982 issue of SAIL, Randy describes Celerity II's behavior (reproduced by permission of SAIL Magazine):

She bobbed easily over the upwelling crests, first backing swiftly, then popping upward like a suddenly released balloon. I was certain we would be buried under each seemingly perpendicular wall. No water came on deck. The bridle led perfectly, never coming into contact with either the hulls or the deck. There was no jerking at the blocks - only a gradual tension and relaxation as the nylon "springs" dissipated the heavy loads. We were anchored in mid-Pacific. We might have been anchored in a monsoon-torn harbor, except for the longer periods between each extraordinary rise and fall.

With the situation in hand they went down below and prepared a meal. Radio reception faded in and out, but they were able to piece the fragments together: tropical storm Freida had been upgraded to a hurricane, and her eye was 150 miles to the north! Just before dark Randy estimated the wind speed at about 50 knots sustained, with seas of 30 feet from trough to crest. Many of the waves were observed to be breaking heavily along their full lengths, but Celerity II had settled down into predictable cycles and seemed to be doing OK.

The night was a lonely vigil for the two. Randy writes that lying in the dark cabin they were mentally overwhelmed by the noise of the combers, rising in pitch as they approached the boat and then falling in pitch as they receded - like approaching and receding freight cars. The wind was shrieking through the rigging and the radar reflector up on the mast, creating an incessant racket that tore at their nerves. It was impossible to sleep. At dawn they were able to prepare a breakfast, and the radio informed them that the eye of the storm - packing 100 knot winds - had re-curved and was passing to the north for the second time! Thea put her head into the plastic observation bubble in the coach roof and surveyed the white seas around them. Suddenly she exclaimed she could see the parachute in the distance. As the boat climbed the next wave, Randy saw it too, "a shimmering disc, suspended like a huge jellyfish in the face of the bottle-green sea. The shroud lines reached out like tentacles, holding us safely in their grasp. We knew we were safe as long as our chute held." Well, the chute did hold, and, other than some minor damage to the trim-tab on her self-steering rudder, Celerity II emerged from her encounter with the lady Freida intact. In the same article Randy Thomas sums up his opinions:

Cruising safety depends on having options. And the parachute sea anchor can offer you a crucial alternative when the chips are down. Lying a-hull in heavy seas can result in damage, capsize, or worse aboard a light-displacement boat that is easily "tripped" by a fin keel or a submersible float. A parachute will hold such craft safely head-to-the-seas, minimizing drift and the danger of breaking crests.

S/T-1 Trimaran, Horstman Tristar Ketch


Trimaran, Horstman Tristar Ketch

39' x 22' x 8 Tons

28-Ft. Dia. Parachute Sea Anchor

Force 12 Conditions



File S/T-1, obtained from Joan Casanova, Oregon City, OR. - Vessel name Tortuga Too, hailing port Seattle, Trimaran, Tristar ketch, designed by Ed Horstman, LOA 39' x Beam 22' x Draft 44" x 8 Tons - Sea anchor: 28-ft. Diameter C-9 military class parachute on 400' x 3/4" nylon three strand tether and bridle arms of 60' each, with 1/2" galvanized swivel - Full trip line - Deployed in numerous storms during 18-year cruise from Seattle to African coast, the Southern Ocean and back to Texas - Severest use case was over the Burwood Bank, between Cape Horn and Falkland Islands, with winds of 85-100 knots and seas in excess of 30' - Vessel's bow yawed about 20° - Drift was estimated to be 16 n.m. during three days at sea anchor.


By and large this is probably the most important file in the Drag Device Data Base. Other than a handful of known but poorly-documented cases of commercial fishermen and some sailboats using parachutes, our knowledge about the general behavior of boats at sea anchor was sketchy until the Casanovas came alone. We didn't know if a boat would "rise to the seas," or be pulled through green water. We didn't know if the boat would roll with the punches and "yield to the seas," or stand up against them and break up. We didn't know if the boat would get "slingshotted" off the crests as the elastic rode stretched. We didn't know if the boat would "back down" on her rudder, so as to cause it to break off. We didn't know if the hardware and fittings on boats could withstand the forces involved. Well, thanks to the pioneering work of Joan and John Casanova, now we know.

The parachute anchoring system never failed on Tortuga Too, not once in eighteen years and some 200,000 blue water miles. Off the coast of New Zealand where cyclone winds were recorded at 90 mph, in a hurricane off Fiji where several other boats were lost, in 40-ft. seas in the Indian Ocean, and in a truly devastating storm off the Falklands, time and again Tortuga Too survived without damage by the correct use of the parachute sea anchor. While Lady Luck might have played a significant role in some of the other files in this database, it is clear that her role was minimal in this one. Indeed, the number of times that the parachute was used, and the broad range of life-threatening storms and heavy weather situations in which it was deployed, seem to tell us that luck had very little to do with anything here - though it goes without saying that luck always favors the wise and the well-prepared.

Despite her relatively lightweight - plywood - construction, and despite her 22-ft. beam, Tortuga Too was never in any danger of breaking up. Not once did she get slingshotted off the huge storm crests; she never went crashing through green water; the galvanized swivel did not fail; the deck fittings did not pull out. The 28-ft. diameter military parachute held and the system worked, time and time again.

Tortuga Too's worst-case scenario occurred over the shallow Burwood Bank, between Cape Horn and the Falklands. This was a "bomb" type storm development, to use the expression coined by professor Fred Sanders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The term "bomb" is generally used to describe the rapid development of a secondary storm, which overtakes - and reinforces - its predecessor. In particular it describes the pressure gradient amplifications that result from the overtaking of a surface LOW by a faster moving upper altitude TROUGH, resulting in barometric pressure decreases of 24 millibars or more in a 24-hour period, as well as abruptly angled surface wind fields. This type of storm development - usually identified by high-altitude comma-shaped clouds on satellites pictures - was associated with Fastnet '79.

In the book The Parachute Anchoring System Joan Casanova describes Tortuga Too's encounter with a genuine ESW - extreme storm wave. Tortuga Too was tethered to a 28-ft. diameter C-9 parachute when an enormous mountain of curling, roaring water rose before her bows, something akin to the terrifying photographs in Coles's Heavy Weather Sailing. This sobering account should be a source of comfort to multihull sailors in particular. It is reproduced by permission of Chiodi Advertising & Publishing, publisher of Multihulls Magazine:


It was the type of a wave which pitchpoles yachts in these oceans, the type which every voyager sailing in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean fears. While we watched, horrified, this monster welled up for a second time, curling over as if breaking on a beach, then roaring in foamy masses on top of Tortuga Too, covering deck and wheel house before running off into the sea once more. We were so shaken by this experience that it seemed an eternity before we regained our composure to check the boat's condition, but she was all right. In fact, Tortuga Too recovered faster than we. There was no structural damage. She had returned to her original position of facing the storm and was already climbing the next wave....

We want to stress here that no vessel, multihull, monohull or freighter, could have survived such a sea unless tethered with a long line from a sea anchor... we share this story with you only to prove how this technique can protect a craft in extraordinary circumstances. Although Tortuga Too survived this mammoth wave crashing on her deck, there was no backing down on her rudder, nor any structural damage to the hulls.


The experiences of the Casanovas with parachute sea anchors is so broad-based, so extensive that it has entered into the legend and nomenclature of multihull sailing. In the multihull community the name "Casanova" is synonymous with parachute anchoring, to the extent that the names "Voss" and "Pardey" are synonymous with heaving-to in the monohull community. In the course of logging all those blue water miles, Joan and "Cass" tried every conceivable heavy weather tactic known to man, including the use of makeshift drogues off the stern, but they always found themselves coming back to the bow-deployed parachute sea anchor. Multihull sailors owe a debt of deep gratitude to Joan Casanova in particular, for having the vision to see in her valuable storm experiences a responsibility to inform others. (See also her early articles in the Spring 1976, July/August 1979 and August 1980 issues of Multihulls Magazine).

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